SXSW -Painting the History of Tetris as a Thriller. Who knew?

No one would ever imagine that the simple and highly addicting video game TETRIS’ global release and subsequent popularity stemmed from a spy-like story involving international company wars and the Russian government. Such is the case, and director Jon S. Baird and screenwriter Noah Pink share the remarkable story of one man’s effort to bring the game to the masses and the steps it took to acquire various product rights. Taron Egerton stars in this fast-moving, biographical mystery thriller, and the result is perfectly paced and surprisingly engaging.

Egerton plays Henk Rogers, a small gaming company owner, who discovers Tetris while peddling his own (and undesired) game, Go Go. He also discovers that some of the markets for Tetris (namely Japan, where Rogers lives) remain untapped. Willing to risk it all, Rogers, a married father of five, flies to Russia, where Tetris creator Alexey Pazhitnov (Nikita Efremov) has resolved himself to no gains from his efforts. Alexey takes enormous risks, too, and the Russian government’s more sorted side seeks to thwart their efforts, as does a rival gaming company.

Baird and Pink give audiences a rapid-fire, engrossing, entertaining story infused with old-school game graphics and interesting characters. It’s difficult to image a game like Tetris being rooted in and warranting threats and espionage, but it does, and instead of a milk-toast biopic, we get an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Egerton plays Rogers with heart and delivers a quality performance. His passion and efforts drive the film. Baird creates some wholly intense moments and draws the audience into the inner workings of game launches and high-dollar wheeling and dealing for rights. The entire cast is solid, and the film’s pacing is perfect.

Game launches and distribution rights are far more complex and cutthroat than I imagined. While Rogers indeed has a “special set of skills,” it’s unexpected that he is the star of a Liam Neeson-style action movie. The film’s cast of characters, who believe so strongly in its power to universalize the human experience, sit at the heart of Tetris. Pink’s tight script wastes no dialogue, character, or scene. From start to finish, Tetris entertains. Fittingly, Tetris is fun, fast, and furious, demonstrating the tenaciousness of the human spirit. It’s a trip down memory lane, a thriller, and it works! I am placing five starts up top for this exciting origin tale.

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